Chances are, nobody really likes office politics (or, at least, nobody admits to liking them), but traditionally, IT types are thought to like them least of all. Heck, that may be why they wanted to get into IT in the first place.

Indeed, in some cases, tech people avoid the CIO track because they don’t want to get involved in office politics, which they perceive as being a major part of the job, according to a recent Computerworld survey. Only 32 percent of surveyed IT professionals said that they were interested in being the CIO, a reluctance that’s partly due to politics. This is particularly the case in organizations that are outsourcing much of the actual technological work such that the CIO position becomes primarily one of managing services, writes Julia King in Computerworld.

That said, there are reasons why IT people need to learn how to navigate office politics.

First, you want your work to be judged on its own merits rather than because of which office faction you’re thought to be in—or not in. In particular, this is critical because IT projects are primarily judged in the breach: When things aren’t working, writes Minda Zetlin in Computerworld. “IT often goes unappreciated unless and until something fails to work as expected,” she writes. (She warns you, however tempting it may be, not to break something just so that you can be seen as the rescuer who saves the day.) Having political cachet means people will be more likely to grant you some slack if something goes wrong.

Second, office politics can take time away from, you know, the work. “Organizations full of complex politics and gossip rarely reach their full potential because the employees are spending a portion of their time watching their backs when they could be using that energy to improve the organization,” warns Brandon Moser in CIO.

In addition, for IT to come into its full potential as a business driver for the organization, the people who work in IT have to have some familiarity with office politics, because, like it or not, that’s how things get accomplished, writes Arthur Langer in CIO Insight. “Good ideas alone are not enough,” he writes. “Politics can add value by allowing CIOs to initiate and influence relationships with other leaders.”

Unfortunately, many of the articles on office politics tend to focus on the negative: Here’s what you shouldn’t do. Here’s the kind of person you shouldn’t be. And while these articles can be fun to read, such as by figuring out which of your coworkers fits into which category, they’re not really useful on a practical level if your goal is to use office politics for your own advantage.

Here are some ideas for how to play politics successfully:

  • Focus on doing your own job well, rather than looking for instances of others doing their jobs poorly.
  • Be nice and helpful to everyone. “One powerful way to be a positive force in office politics is to actively help others be successful,” writes Joel Dobbs in CIO’s Enterprise CIO Forum. “It is amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t worry about who gets the credit. Don’t worry, people will notice.” (Some writers say you should be particularly nice to people in power. But you can certainly play it safe by being nice to everyone.)
  • Make sure your body language matches what you’re saying, or even when you’re being quiet. It won’t help to talk about how much you like an idea if you’re scowling with your arms crossed or subconsciously giving someone the finger while you speak.
  • Judge ideas on their merits rather than by who brings them, and look for the value in every idea. “Act like a team,” advises Carol Morgan in Lifehack. “View yourselves as a unit instead of individuals who are fighting to win. Find areas of agreement and build upon that.”
  • Be positive and upbeat rather than being negative and cynical. “Bitching and complaining are common responses to these events that we cannot control,” writes Lawrence Check in Lifehack. “But think about it, other than that short term emotional outlet, what tangible results do[es] bitching really accomplish? In most instances, none.” Instead of feeling victimized and angry, focus on the things that you can do to influence the situation, he advises.
  • Another useful technique is to develop a sense of humor about it all. Not only is humor a great tension breaker, but it makes you both more fun to work with and more approachable, writes Jacquelyn Smith in Forbes.

What it all boils down to is that the way to succeed in office politics is not to consciously play politics at all.

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